Regarding Time as Clues:
Discussion on TSENG Shang-Jie's “Hunter” Solo Exhibition
By LAI Chun-Chieh (Jay)
The figures carved by TSENG Shang-Jie for the most part do not reveal much emotion in their expressions, but instead, they tend to narrate the story of the time with physical postures. Capturing emotions with postures does not necessarily mean exaggerated or dramatic movements. Even though the figures may have a stylized elongated form like Mannerism, TSENG refuses to deliberately create a stage effect through postures. What he strives to narrate is the plot constructed by the figures’ eyesight and the time engraved by color, which goes beyond the figure statues themselves.
The exhibition is titled “Hunter”, which, as the artist said, is associated with the consideration of the current pandemic-stricken situation: many people are forced to stop (or we say "wait") their scheduled activities and plans because of this far-reaching and irresistible event. As such, what he focuses on is not chasing, the core of the “hunting” as it is generally supposed to be, but instead, the silence or waiting state before the critical strike. A case in point the figure fixed at his back but still looking firmly at the distance, whose inconspicuous twisting posture and the palm of the hand that seems to be poised to fly out reveal that he is about to make a strike. The artist managed to express the stretching force of this “readiness” time with exquisite carving marks, and what the marks revealing calmness and agility broke down was the temporality (instantaneity) sustained by the physical posture. This is related to the coloring technique that TSENG usually uses. The repeated painting and the ablation of small areas are not so much refined for the sake of shape; on the contrary, it should be considered more from the time. In addition to recording the artist's labor experience, it also reveals the traces of the process. So, the carving traces seem to be similar to the “flying-white” technique in ink painting. However, interestingly, what the “flying-white” technique aims to achieve is to leave behind the objects (abstract and concrete) to be expressed, while for TSENG, the aim is to remove the thing to be expressed (Here it refers to “time”), with the intention of embodying the stretching force of the time. But in any case, both the two techniques point to the same concept, that is, works’ “time and space extension”, which is employed to increase layer richness. This kind of extension is first implied by the spatial dimension that is inseparable from the figure’s body, and the pedestal is removed and replaced by the real basis for the figure vividly existing in the space so that it extends to the physical exhibition space.
The concept of time and space extension also explains why artists always conceive their works with the control thinking of theater space. Each work is the protagonist of the story, and each solo exhibition narrates a different story. The figures in the exhibition are connected with each other through various “visual chasing” symbols, such as the fable “The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind” conveyed by the bull's-eye, or the telescope and darts shooting, all of which prominently respond to the theme of the exhibition. These symbols connect the figures created by the artist together and make them construct a visual hunting field in which no one can escape from the other's vision. This, of course, may apply to the visitors in the exhibition. Seeing from another angle, the figure with the bull’s-eye on his back, whose left palm is opened backwards, may not aim at the target in front of him, but instead the hunter behind him. So, who is the prey? Who is the hunter? It is this kind of control over the time and space extension that allows various symbols to touch each other, making them escape the confinements of the statue’s so-called internal structure and extend into the actual theater space. Therefore, the exhibition “Hunter” is narrative, but its narrative technique focuses on encapsulating emotions, sequences and actions into the same story to the viewer through the various visual observation frameworks, rather than the physical or group connection or interaction among the statues.
“Storyboard” is probably a better narrative method, by which the exhibition statues figures’ body ratio, half-body, whole body, and perspective conversion caused by lying on their back can all be conceived as the scenes of storyboard, gradually constructing viewers’ understanding and emotional sensation. The use of storyboard can effectively and flexibly free the statues from the “display stands”, making them no longer attached to the pedestals stably and centrally but instead the changes in distance and angle brought by the viewing frame, which are used to present the relationship between figures. When creating figure statues, TSENG doesn’t pursue the “vividness”, in the common aesthetic point of view; to be precise, “expression” is not the focus of his solo exhibition, and it is the overall postures as well as their relationships that are the main narrative techniques. Additionally, the shape and attitude of the figures are prone to triggering the reminiscence of the style of Japanese youth manga. However, what’s expressed here is a world-weary plot that is closer to the styles of the “end of the world” and “gloominess”. The figures created by him feature an overall gray tone and almost indifferent figure carving, as if they are inviting viewers to share their melancholy, or saying, “how about having a smoke, or having a drink?” Apparently, those figures without a clear visual target are, as the artist said, the ones in a waiting state (before hunting), so they seem to be not so active and energetic to a certain degree. Waiting is a very interesting thing that reveals a sort of helpless vigor, and all plans and actions must be surrendered in front of “waiting”. In another way, it is more like a magic time static spell, forcing people to stop, or be empty, or perhaps carefully plan the next step. Similarly, the image of smoking in a reclined manner also presents the strong feeling of melancholy held by the figure, while the hand stretches out into the sky appears to convey his unspeakable helplessness as well.
What TSENG chases in his “Hunter” exhibition is not a specific thing, but the time, fleeting yet untraceable. With waiting (using time as currency) as the theme, the artist places more attention to the aimless state when people are caught in a waiting state due to the abrupt suspension of activities as a result of the pandemic, or the melancholy triggered by the constant passing of youth, or the idleness of having nothing to do, which all can be regarded as waiting postures, in this context, are just like a stretched bow of time that is ready to shoot an arrow, so they should be understood as a sort of continuation and extension of the time as if waiting or looking for something, rather than a superfluous mannered effect. The enframed scenery and storyboard techniques present a state of getting into the hunting moment to a certain extent. The elongated body shapes capture time fragments with frames, presenting the artist’s understanding and pursuit for timeliness. However, there is no need to labor that either hunting or framing ghost-like time is always a task unachievable. In many cases, almost everyone can understand “time is precious”, but it seems to become a relatively useless thing in the current days stricken by the pandemic. For the most people who used to spare no efforts to chase efficient time in their ordinary lives unexpectedly turn to a state of having abundant idle time, and time has become a ghostly nightmare that is difficult for people to get rid of. If we say “hunt” means a kind of insistence to pursue the Others, what TSENG’s works reveal is the obsession to time, maybe more adherent, and he is paranoidly trapped in it, which "haunts" himself. In this way, such a visually chasing theater space constructed by the artist turns into a net to capture “time”. The time capturing net is an extension of our beliefs, with which we believe and seek various beautiful futures that are doomed to disappear in time. Perhaps this is the narrative blueprint that the artist invites us to share with him.